Dear cousins and siblings,
Two years ago as my dad and I were sorting through old stuff in his basement, we discovered a moldy leather suitcase that contained a lot of memorabilia and papers saved by our grandparents, copies of commencement programs where Harvard F. Vallance had given speeches, that sort of thing. But amongst these more ordinary souvenirs of accomplishments was an amazing find: a bundle of letters, tied with ribbon, written by Harvard from May 10, 1904 to July 28, 1904, in the summer before he and Maude were married, when they never saw each other but wrote almost every other day to one another. It is an incredible treasure, 32 love letters, written so beautifully by a young man completely in love, full of dreams and just dying for the day he would again see his “ little Maudie”. He was Superintendent of Schools in Ostrander then, and spending the summer in Aberdeen completing his Bachelors degree, I think. Maude was off visiting relatives in various places, and the two were not together that whole long summer before the wedding. Even the engagement itself emerges as a secret early on in the letters, and the love and longing itself is, while supposed to be written “between the lines” (their agreement) really quite openly expressed and very beautifully so. In addition to the lovely sentiments for Maude, his dreams for their future and how their life together will be, there are also wonderful examples of his humor, his ideals, and his thriftiness. For instance, a detailed estimate of their honeymoon costs ($45) at the St Louis World’s Fair of 1904 including an “estimate” of $6.70 for “incidentals” . In May, the letters begin on “fancy” letterhead of the Office of the Superintendent, but in his thrifty way, he ends up using tiny free notepads from Mutual Life, and a wide variety of paper (commenting once on the cost of paper), even within one envelope. He had progressive ideas about women, for his time, encouraging Maude to compete her education in music, expressing great respect for her throughout the letters. In one letter just before the wedding he replies to her objection to the word “obey” in the marriage vows (she was progressive, too!) and totally supports this, saying that “no one will command the other in our home”. Great stuff. .. The postage that year was 2 cents for a letter. It has been such a gift to explore these wonderful letters and come to know this grandfather I never really had the joy of knowing in his lifetime (I think I was one when he died). He must have been about 25 years old when he wrote these. Unfortunately, there is only ONE letter from Maude, the last one written just before their wedding. I wish we had her side of the correspondence. Also in the bundle of letters was one written a year later and one written 42 years later for their anniversary, still with undiminished love for his wife, now referred to as Tommy.
This discovery was such a joy to me, that I wanted to share it with all of the grandchildren of that amazing couple. I have arranged all the letters in archival quality sheet protectors and put them in a 3 ring notebook for my father to keep, (he is working on his memoirs) and I have scanned them all and put them on CDs for all of you to enjoy. You can read them on the computer or you can have these printed out. I took my CD to a print shop that printed out color copies from it.. It has been scanned like a photograph, so you will see the old paper, the creases, the handwriting, etc. Unfortunately for you, I have only basic computer skills. These have not been formatted in a sophisticated “gallery” type display , so I offer a word of explanation so that you can access them in an orderly fashion. I meant to have them all in chronological order, and for the most part they are in chronological reverse order (last to earliest) and a couple of them are out of sequence. A couple of tips:
– Open Love Letters and you will see them displayed with file names like 1904-05-10_1. That means May 10, 1904, page one. 1904-05-10_2 refers to the same letter, page two. 1904-05-10_env refers to the envelopes, which I also scanned. If you click once on these files you will see the whole file name with the page number. I think (on my computer at least) the page numbers do not show up unless you do that.
– THEN, of course double clicking will open the file and it will be HUGE, bigger than your screen, so you have to go to File>Print Preview, to see it reduced to a manageable size for reading. I apologize for the clumsiness of this format but it is the best I could do at my computer literacy level. (I wish my son Adam, the Geek in Shining Armor could have done this for me with his nifty archival slide show program!) I have enclosed for you a Table of Contents so you will at least have a clue about what is there to look for, and the order in which you should read them. Just to whet your appetite, I have enclosed a copy of one of my favorite pages, as well as the honey moon expenses, which I found amazing.
If you have any problems , let me know.
Beau and I read these letters at the cottage on Crystal Lake last summer, surrounded by the spirits of Mamo and Graddy. We were time traveling to a world with no telephones, with austere social customs about men and women (as you will see in the letters- one painfully cancelled reunion at the Bradford’s farm), of horse & buggy travel, which, as we have all been told was crucial to bringing these two together, when Maude’s buggy fell over in a ditch and the young stranger, Harvard, came to her rescue! It was so much fun to be transported back to their courtship.. I grew up trying to know Graddy through osmosis, sort of, by cherishing his old cottage, by enjoying my father’s stories of him, old photographs, and by wearing an old sweatshirt of his. But now I feel I have had the most wonderful opportunity to know him in a much more intimate way and to appreciate anew what an extremely intelligent, gentle and remarkable man he was. If only we had her letters to him!
So, enjoy this gift from the past.